10 players worth trading for
The NFL landscape changes so fast, Frederick Law Olmstead's head is spinning. (Let's hear it for obscure landscape jokes!) One day, Matt Schaub is riding a blazing saddle to the AFC's No. 1 seed, and the next his fantasy owners are desperately casting around for a replacement QB. One day, Michael Vick is the centerpiece of your fantasy dreams, and the next he's writhing around on the turf of Lincoln Financial Field, clutching his ribs. It's a nasty business, this pro football.
And your final chance to drastically remake your team is nearly upon us. The default trading deadline for ESPN.com leagues is Wednesday, Nov. 23 at noon ET. If you have holes, you must try to patch them, or forever hold your peace. If you're sagging in the standings, now is the time to be bold. If you've been stung by the injury bug, your solution simply may not be available on the waiver wire. It's time to craft some deals.
Thursday, I gave you 10 Players To Deal Away, based on scheduling, depth chart issues and overall gestalt. Now I present 10 Players To Trade For. Do I promise that I'm going to hit a home run with every one of these suggestions? I do not. But if you add one or more of the players below, do I think you give yourself a chance to shake things up for the positive? Indeed, I do.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions. If you're going to buy low on Stafford, now is the time. He reportedly fractured a finger in Week 8 versus the Denver Broncos, and it may have showed Sunday against the Chicago Bears: Stafford went 33-of-63 with a TD and four INTs, and some of his throws were so far off as to be comical. He claims it was the Soldier Field winds. I'm not so sure, and I'll admit that the prospect of dealing something good for a QB with a broken finger on his throwing hand is a dicey proposition. But you can get him for a song right now, and make a bet that he gets better. The Lions face an easy slate of pass defenses in the fantasy playoffs (in ESPN.com standard leagues, the playoffs take place from Week 14 to Week 17): MIN, @OAK, SD, @GB. There's not an above-average-performing unit in that group, and the Green Bay Packers may be resting come Week 17, anyway.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears. Yeah, I know. Cutler currently ranks 21st in fantasy points among QBs. Mike Martz's once-vaunted passing attack (vaunted, that is, when Martz was with the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions) has been tamed, and now you can find nary a fantasy-relevant pass-catcher on the Bears' roster. But I'm not punishing Cutler for only going 9-of-19 for 123 yards Sunday against the Lions. He didn't need to throw because his team had a huge lead. Cutler has shown fairly significant progress, tossing only two picks in his past five games, though it's true he hasn't exceeded 267 yards passing in a game since Week 3. I'm not telling you I'll be ranking him inside my top 10 QBs anytime soon. But if you're in a deeper league or want to deal for a little insurance, Cutler could be an interesting and inexpensive option. His performances are more controlled and on the upswing, and his team plays the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings in Weeks 14 and 17, two bookend games that could see Cutler excel.
Editor's Note: Jay Cutler fractured his thumb in Week 11 and could miss the remainder of the season.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens. Rice won't come cheap, but you might be able to pry him free after a maddening Week 10 in which the Ravens gave Rice only five carries (to go with eight receptions). I mean, John Harbaugh, I know you're trailing because of special-teams turnovers, but who's your best player? The Ravens have put too much faith in Joe Flacco lately, and it has paid off only occasionally. When you're trying to trade for him, point to Rice only rushing for 100 yards once since Week 1 and point to his mistreatment by offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Then rub your hands together. Because I have to believe that the Ravens are chastened; there's a direct correlation between how frequently Rice is used and whether the team wins. Add in three favorable matchups from Weeks 14 to 16 (IND, @SD, @CLE), and I'm locking it down: Rice will be a top-five fantasy back from this point forward. (He's already No. 5 for the season, of course, but somehow after a desultory effort like Week 10, it doesn't feel that way.) The only hesitation is a possible toughie in Week 17 versus the Bengals.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars. MJD is Jacksonville's offense, which is good and bad. It's good because perhaps more than any other RB in the NFL, you know Jones-Drew is getting a bushel of touches every week. (He's averaging 24.4 over his past five games.) But it's bad because who else in this offense will defenses focus on stopping? The Houston Texans put a squadron of defenders in the box back in Week 8 and laid the blueprint for how a strong defense can limit Jones-Drew's effectiveness. That's worrisome. And I hate MJD's Week 15 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, who currently boast perhaps the league's most underrated run defense. But if he can squeak through that one with a cheap score, Jones-Drew should be a fantasy playoff monster. He gets the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 14, 16 and 17, three defenses that simply don't have the defensive firepower to execute a Texans-esque plan. I don't think you could rightly claim MJD is a "buy-low" candidate, because he currently ranks eighth in RB fantasy points. But he's probably my favorite acquisition candidate right now, anyway.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys. The way to wrench Murray away from his owner is to fret aloud about Felix Jones. Sure, most reasonable folks agree that Murray has earned the largest share of backfield touches in Big D once Jones returns (which should be as soon as this week versus the Washington Redskins). But how big a slice will Prince Felix take? After all, Jones was averaging 17 touches per game before his high-ankle sprain in Week 6. Even if that number dips to, say, 10, isn't that a scary proposition for Murray backers? That's the argument you can use, but I'm actually not that worried. Murray has proven to be an utter revelation. He came out of Oklahoma with a reputation for terrific hands and good speed, but he played in a spread offense and battled a constant stream of leg injuries. I admit that it would be scary to give up a ton for a rookie with such a checkered injury past, but if you're going to take a shot, why not do it for a guy who's had at least 135 yards rushing in three of his past four contests?
Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots. Welker is still on pace to catch 128 passes for 1,788 yards; that would be the second-highest total of all time in each category. So why does it feel like Welker is fading? He's only made it over 46 yards receiving in one of his past four contests and hasn't found the end zone since Oct. 16. Defenses have simply started putting their best corners on him and leaving them there. (Et tu, Darrelle Revis?) So you might find the Welker owner in your league in a receptive mood. But the Pats' schedule seems to get much easier from this point forward: They only play one game out of their final seven against a team with a winning record, and that's the 5-4 Buffalo Bills in Week 17. There also isn't an intimidating-looking secondary on Welker's fantasy playoff schedule (@WAS, @DEN, MIA, BUF). I still give the mighty mite a puncher's chance at breaking the NFL record for catches and receiving yards in a single season.
Steve Johnson, WR, Buffalo Bills. Of course, Welker will still be rather expensive. Johnson might not be. Along with the rest of the Bills' offense, Stevie has traded in his "Why So Serious?" shirt for a frowny-faced one. He hasn't caught more than six passes in a game since Week 3, and in that span he has topped 57 yards receiving once. The big plays that highlighted Johnson's season in '10 (he had 10 plays of 25-plus yards in 13 starts last season) have diminished (he has only five such plays so far in '11). Plus at the end of a two-catch, 8-yard effort against the Dallas Cowboys last week, Johnson banged up his shoulder and is considered day to day. His value is at a season-low right now. But like those before him on this list, I like Stevie's playoff schedule. He gets the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, and especially the first and last of these matchups compute as positive ones. I'm not saying you'll feel comfortable starting Stevie right away if you deal for him. But I do think he'll trend up again before season's end, and is thus worth a minor risk.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seattle Seahawks. In Week 10, Rice suffered what his team has termed a "mild" concussion, which sounds a little like being "partially" paralyzed. While it could be worse, it ain't good. Rice had previously been fairly reliable in games where he and Tarvaris Jackson were both healthy, but against the Baltimore Ravens, Rice only managed two grabs for 14 yards in about two quarters of work. Even if he can't play in Week 11 versus the St. Louis Rams (which would be a shame, because it's one sweet matchup against a thoroughly depleted secondary), Rice will get healthy soon and jump back on the track that makes him, at worst, a No. 3 fantasy receiver. He has an elite size/speed combo and a QB who wants to sling it at him. And he has positive matchups for wideouts across the board in the fantasy playoffs: STL, @CHI, SF, @ARI. He'll cost practically nothing right now, but will deliver in December.
Fred Davis, TE, Washington Redskins. As the Redskins QBs have fallen flat, so has Davis hit the skids. The past two weeks combined, he has six grabs for 70 yards. When considering whether Davis might be a buy-low solution for the TE hole in your fantasy lineup, you have to weigh a couple factors. First and foremost, can any receiver consistently do damage with either Rex Grossman or John Beck winging it to them? I actually think Beck is a better remedy for what ails Davis because of his check-down proclivities, but Grossman was the guy throwing the rock in Weeks 1 and 2, when Davis had 11 grabs for 191 yards. Also, we have to ask: Is there anyone in the receiving corps who can steal looks from Davis? Chris Cooley is out for the year, as is Leonard Hankerson, and while Santana Moss will probably return from his hand injury in the next few weeks, one wonders how sharp he'll be. Davis is still the best pass-catching weapon the Skins have, and he has a dream skein of linebacker corps from Weeks 14 to 16: New England Patriots, New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.
Cincinnati Bengals Defense. The Bengals' defense currently ranks fourth in fantasy points, but it's the quietest fourth you're ever going to see. And now that top corner Leon Hall is out for the season with a torn Achilles, the Bengals owner in your league may be wavering. But I'm still aboard, especially because of the offenses this unit will face at season's end. I'll grant you that Week 14 versus the Texans could be a problem if Matt Leinart can keep the Houston offense humming. Arian Foster is definitely no treat to tackle. But if the Texans get one-dimensional, the Bengals are talented enough to keep Foster under wraps. And after that, you have: @STL, ARI, BAL, three offenses prone to generosity. This is a surprisingly good fantasy unit that I don't expect will fade.
Christopher Harris is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy. He is also the author of the newly published football novel "Slotback Rhapsody." Get information about this book at www.slotbackrhapsody.com.
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